Battling addiction and ready for treatment?
Overview of Video Game Addiction Causes
The negative impact of video game addiction has grown over the past few decades as video games become more and more similar to the real world.
While the exact causes of video game addiction aren’t fully understood, research shows that certain risk factors make some people more at risk than others.
The more we learn about the effects of video games on a person’s life, the better we can become at spotting the warning signs of video game addiction.
With the right treatment and strategies, video game addicts can enter recovery and live full, happy lives alongside video games.
What Causes Video Game Addiction?
Video game addiction or internet gaming disorder is thought to be caused by the repeated release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine plays a large role in the brain’s reward center and is associated with feelings of pleasure and reward.
Playing video games tends to affect the brain’s reward center. For example, the person playing the game finally defeats a difficult enemy, which triggers dopamine release.
Over time, the brain may become dependent on the continuous release of dopamine and struggle to function without it.
While this is the leading theory behind the cause of video game addiction, there are other causes to consider. Some video game addicts use playing games to cope with stress, trauma, or symptoms of mental illness.
Common Risk Factors for Video Game Addiction
Anyone of any age, gender, or background can become addicted to video games. However, certain individuals are more at risk than others due to common risk factors.
Having one of these risk factors doesn’t guarantee you’ll develop the condition, but it can increase caution and awareness.
Common risk factors for video game addiction include:
- Being male or assigned male at birth
- Having personality traits like impulsivity, thrill-seeking, aggression, generally high anxiety, and neuroticism
- Low self-control
- Low self-esteem
- Poor social life
- History of addiction
- Spending more and more money on gaming
- Having more online gaming friends than real-life friends
- Co-occurring mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, ADHD, and substance use disorder
Why Are Video Games Addictive?
According to current research, video game addiction affects between 1.7% and 10% of the U.S. population. Video game addiction falls under the umbrella of behavioral addiction, similar to gambling addiction and shopping addiction.
Video games are designed to hold the player’s attention, which creates a high potential for addiction for individuals at risk for video game addiction. Generally, online games tend to be more addictive than offline games.
Whether it’s an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing games), a single-player game, or a mobile game with in-app purchases, all games are designed to keep players hooked.
Online games, especially MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games), are by far the most addictive type of game. Examples of MMORPGs include World of Warcraft (WoW), Runescape, Diablo series, Baldur’s Gate 3, and Elder Scrolls Online.
World of Warcraft, in particular, became a pop culture phenomenon after its release in 2004 and is often credited for opening the conversation around video game addiction.
MMORPGs like WoW are considered addictive due to how huge the world is and how many activities you can engage in.
Most MMORPGs have no ending and contain infinite quests and mini-games to spend hours and/or money on. Many players form real relationships with other players, which can keep them playing if they have few in-person friends.
Although online games tend to be addictive, offline games can also be addictive. Offline games are types of video games that don’t involve an internet connection or playing with other people.
Single-player offline games are also designed to keep the player sucked in and activate the brain’s reward system.
Video game addicts may compulsively play both online and offline games as part of their behavioral addiction. That being said, some video game addicts only have addictive behaviors towards offline games and never get hooked on online games or MMORPGs.
Internet gambling or gambling-based video games is often the intersection of gambling addiction and video game addiction.
Video poker, slot machines, and any chance-based game involving money can easily tempt gambling addicts into video game addiction or video game addicts into gambling addiction.
Even gambling-style games that don’t involve real money can still trigger the same gaming behavior and gambling behavior seen in both conditions.
The “chance” element of gambling video games can cause certain video game addicts to start seeking out real gambling to chase the “high.”
Tips for Avoiding Video Game Addiction
Video games are often vilified for causing violence or being dangerous to physical health, but no research seriously supports these claims. However, video game addiction is a serious problem for certain individuals with risk factors.
Common tips for avoiding video game addiction include:
- Track the amount of time you or your loved one is gaming and take breaks during certain time intervals
- Set limits on the amount of time playing video games per day
- Do other daily activities, including exercise, which lowers the health risks of sitting and playing for long periods
- Find other hobbies or activities that interest you
- Schedule outings or events that keep you from gaming for hours (e.g., attending concerts, going to dinner with friends, going to special events)
How Is Video Game Addiction Treated?
Video game addiction treatment typically involves psychotherapy and medication, if needed. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common type of psychotherapy used, although other methods may work better for certain people.
Diagnosis of video game addiction requires working with a mental health professional. Your doctor or therapist may use the criteria listed for video game addiction in the ICD-11 (International Classification of Diseases, 11th revision) to make a diagnosis.
From there, a treatment plan will be developed, which typically involves therapy and medication, especially if there are other mental health issues you face. Treating any other co-occurring mental health conditions should be part of your video game addiction treatment plan.
Getting Help for Video Game Addiction
If you or a loved one is dealing with the negative effects of excessive gaming or video game addiction, now is the time to get treatment. Don’t wait until the negative consequences of problematic gaming become “bad enough.”
Talk to your doctor or therapist about treatment options for your compulsive gaming habits.
If you don’t have a doctor or are unsure of where to start, you can try using SAMHSA’s online treatment locator or 1-800-662-4357 (HELP) to learn what treatment options are available where you live.
FAQs About Video Game Addiction Causes
What causes video game addiction?
The exact cause of video game addiction is unknown, but the leading theory is related to the constant release of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Some gamers can deal with withdrawal symptoms (including cravings for the game) due to the brain’s dependence on the flood of feel-good chemicals each time they play a video game.
Other causes include family history of addiction issues, co-occurring mental illnesses, and personality traits like impulsivity, aggression, high anxiety, and neuroticism.
How is video game addiction treated?
Video game addiction is typically treated through psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy. In some cases, medication can be helpful for certain symptoms.
If the individual has undiagnosed or untreated mental health conditions, treating those issues can often aid in recovery from addiction.
Is it possible to play video games without becoming addicted?
Yes. Many gamers have no issues with addiction while gaming. Excessive gaming does come with risks to physical and mental health, but video game addiction doesn’t always occur in people who play video games frequently.
Unfortunately, certain people with key risk factors are at higher risk of video game addiction than others. These risk factors include history of substance abuse, history of addiction in your family, and certain mental health conditions.
Who is most likely to become addicted to video games?
Individuals with past substance abuse issues, family members with addiction, and mental health conditions are at increased risk of developing video game addiction.
Anxiety, depression, ADHD, and impulse-control disorders have a higher chance of having signs of video game addiction.
How can I stop a video game addiction?
If you believe you have symptoms of video game addiction, you can start by tracking your video game use. Talk to your healthcare provider about video game playing and see what treatment options might be best for you.
You can also ask family members or friends to help hold you accountable for limiting your time spent playing games.
Finding other hobbies or activities that keep you out of the house can be helpful. Exercise can help improve the physical health problems common with many gamers’ sedentary lives.